News 8 Back-To-School Memories: Lauren Zakalik

My first day of school stung.

No -- like, really stung.

It was September of 1988 (go ahead, you can start calculating) in beautiful Hillsdale, New Jersey, a sleepy community outside New York City, and I was nervous and eager and excited and everything in between on this warm summer day. I was in KINDERGARTEN!! This was the big leagues! This was what I'd heard about and yearned about and dreamed about for a whole five years!

Twenty-six years later, I don't remember what I wore and I don't remember what I had for breakfast.

What I do remember is: My first day stung.

I'd had a great day so far. I got my seat assignment (the round, three-person table), sitting with a neighbor of mine and a very quiet girl. I exclaimed to the quiet girl that we had the same juice boxes (!!), but she only looked back at me in silence with panic-stricken eyes. Turns out, she didn't speak any English. She'd just moved from Sweden, and I'm sure my well-intentioned enthusiasm over Capri Sun was more frightening than anything. But I wasn't deterred. No, I kept talking to this girl because - let's be honest - I can talk to just about anyone, regardless if they respond, or even understand.

I read books, I met new friends, I played on the playground. I was on top of the world. I was made for kindergarten! I was feeling all sorts of things I'd never experienced - independence (No mom! No dad! No brothers!), confidence, and adrenaline.

Until the very end of the day, when we lined up outside one-by-one, and I felt yet another thing I'd never felt before: the white-hot stinger of an angry bee.

I'd been stung.

It sent me into a tear-filled frenzy. What was that!? Why did it happen?! I dropped my lunchbox that I'd been holding so proudly. All the other kids in line were stunned. The vivacious, juice box-loving girl at the round table was bawling her eyes out.

I wanted my mom. NOW. I don't remember much else than saltwater running down my face and an incredible pain on my hand. I was ushered off to the nurse's office and never got to finish my big day. I chuckle now at the theatrics of it all, but, man - in a 5-year-old's world, that was the end of it. Breaking news, if you will; a tragic tale.

Luckily, that first day of school was by far the most traumatic, and things only got better from there. That is, save for my first day of school mid-year when I moved to Michigan in seventh grade (think: mouth retainer, over-sized T-shirt, zero friends), but that's neither here nor there.

School turned out to be one of the greatest loves of my life. I lived for that smell of the hallways when you'd been gone all summer, the buzz of the cafeteria, the excitement of finding out who else was in your homeroom. I loved to learn, and I still do today. Thankfully, I chose the perfect profession for that.

And that silent Swedish girl at my table? We eventually learned to understand each other, and she remains my best friend to this day.

As North Texans prepare to either go back to school themselves, or send their little ones back after a summer away, I wish you all the joy I felt on those 13 first days. And none of the sting.


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